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Faculty Senate asks for study of benefits for gay couples

STANFORD -- The Faculty Senate on Thursday, April 18, sent to committee for study a bill urging the University to give the long-term partners of gay and lesbian faculty and staff members the same benefits that are awarded to spouses.

The Senate, on a divided voice vote, asked the University Committee on Faculty and Staff Benefits to consider the matter and submit a written report to the Senate.

Although there was repeated mention of Senate debate on the bill being held on May 16, that debate has not yet been scheduled.

Seventy-one members of the Academic Council signed a petition asking that spousal benefits -- including medical, dental and travel accident insurance -- be extended to the partners of faculty and staff members who are in "long-term, same-gender committed relationships." The Senate's Steering Committee decided that more information was needed before a Senate debate could be "full and informed," and the question would reach a vote most expeditiously if sent to committee now, rather than later.

Some senators opposed sending the question to the committee. History Prof. Carolyn Lougee said the petitioners want the Senate to make "a statement of principle." Referring the matter to committee first, she said, rules out the possibility that the committee would be influenced by a sense of what the Senate believes.

History Prof. Peter Stansky agreed, saying that the issue of benefits for domestic partners was raised several years ago and a committee had advised that such benefits were too expensive. It seems likely that since the University is in even worse financial shape today, it would get the same advice from the benefits committee, he said.

Sending the matter to the benefits committee, he said, "is against the spirit of how the Senate should operate and against the thrust of the petition."

Provost James N. Rosse, however, said that it would be a mistake for the Senate to express itself without the committee's "detailed fact- finding." Since the benefits issue is complex and surrounded by legal restrictions, he said, he would be reluctant to make a decision without gathering as much information as possible.

Law Prof. Deborah Rhode, the bill's sponsor, said that the steering committee apparently had judged that Senate members would be unprepared to support a statement of principle without full information on the costs. If that is so, she said, it makes sense to obtain the data.

The bill's author, Katherine O'Hanlan, assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics in the School of Medicine, was allowed to address the Senate and said that the measure would result in extra costs to Stanford, but that she had already compiled a preliminary analysis of the likely costs and could provide it to the Senate. In the past, she said, when a similar bill was sent to the benefits committee headed by business Prof. Alain Enthoven, it "was allowed to die with the epitaph: too expensive."

The bill, said O'Hanlan, merely asks for a vote of principle from the faculty "to say yes, this sounds fair to me."

On Feb. 21, the student senate approved a bill calling for Stanford to provide equal benefits to University employees in long-term, same-gender relationships.

When Stanford last October extended to students in long-term domestic partnerships the same access to University benefits as legally married students, it offered those benefits, including eligibility for student housing, to unmarried heterosexuals as well as to gays and lesbians. In contrast, the Senate bill seeks benefits parity only for same- sex couples.

In an interview, Rhode said that she and others supporting the bill felt that the priority should be to gain coverage "for the group most in need of coverage." Heterosexual couples have the option of marrying and gaining coverage, she said, although they may decide not to exercise that option, while gay couples have no legal alternatives.

Reorganizing committee structure

The Senate also heard a preliminary report from Prof. Joseph Goodman, electrical engineering, on possible restructuring of the committees of the Academic Council. Goodman heads an ad hoc committee charged with considering revisions of the committee structure needed to respond to changes in the administrative structure.

Stressing that he was seeking guidance from the Senate, Goodman offered for discussion a structure consolidating many committees, and adding a committee on long-range planning and policy. The latter, he said, would examine long-term trends in the University and formulate academic policy issues for consideration by the faculty. It would refer such issues to an appropriate standing committee, if one exists, and would establish ad hoc committees or task forces as needed to address specific issues.

Senate comment was wide-ranging (see the Faculty Senate minutes for full coverage).

Thomas Wasow, dean of undergraduate studies, worried about whether a proposed Committee on Undergraduate Education could deal adequately with undergraduate admissions and financial aids. Law Prof. William Cohen was concerned that a Committee on Graduate Education and Research would be "swamped" by research interests.

Prof. Halsey Royden, mathematics, said that any change in committees would be "premature" until the effects of changes in the administrative structure are clearer.

Historical concerns

Peter Stansky asked President Donald Kennedy about the announced decision to tear down three old campus buildings that were severely damaged in the October 1989 earthquake: Delta Tau Delta, Synergy and the Phi Psi co-op. Stansky called the proposed demolition of these structures "an act of historical vandalism." It is particularly ironic, he said, that this "anti-humanistic act" should take place in the final year of Stanford's centennial celebration.

"It is almost always cheaper to tear down than to preserve," Stansky said, but "the extra dollars are well worth spending to preserve the quality and texture of Stanford life."

Kennedy said that studies had shown that it would take $4.5 million simply to restore the three buildings to their pre-earthquake status. That's not a very good deal, he said, unless the buildings have strong historic value, and these three buildings are not on the state historical register.

In any case, he said, there will be further consultation before any irreversible actions are taken and Stansky's views will be taken into consideration.



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